Having played for the Netherlands at the U19 & U20 levels respectively between 2011 and 2013, William Troost-Ekong, now 22, made his senior (national) debut for Nigeria at 21 in the country’s 2-0 win over Chad in June of 2015. Almost 10 months later, he is on loan from Gent at Haugesund and captains the Norwegian side. Talking to Sportive 23 writer, Isaac Peter Okaa, he talks about the challenges and responsibilities he faces as a young captain, his ambitions, and the pressure that comes with being tagged the future of the Super Eagles.
There were raised eyebrows when you weren’t included in the Super Eagles squad to face Egypt. Do you feel like you might have been overlooked because you currently play in Norway?
I’m not sure what the reason behind the decision was. I played for the Super Eagles before when I was already playing in the Norwegian premier league on loan from Gent, so I can’t see that being a problem now
Although this season’s Tippeligaen is only three games in, where do you see Haugesund finishing at the end of the season?
We have made a strong start winning the opening 2 games. I’m confident we will end in the top 8 of the table but there is still a long way to go, I think we can really surprise this year.
Are you eyeing a return to the EPL anytime soon?
England is still my final destination, having tasted it at Tottenham where I have played previously. When the right opportunity arises, I will be interested.
With teams like Rosenborg, Strømsgodset, and Molde falling in and around the top three in the Tippeligaen for the past five seasons, do you think Haugesund can break into that circle? What do you see in this team that makes them league contenders?
Yeah, why not? Two years ago Haugesund came third in the league and even though I don’t deny that those three clubs are probably the strongest in the league, why shouldn’t we dare to challenge those clubs for the top spots? It might not be realistic for where the club is at the moment and it isn’t our target but there have been bigger surprises in football.
Have you been contacted by Nigeria U23 coach, Samson Siasia, about playing for the U23 in this year’s Olympics? Have you thought of or even considered it?
Yes. I have spoken with coach Siasia recently and it was a positive conversation. I would be just as proud to represent my country at the Olympics as I was when I played at the senior level. Even though it isn’t something that has been discussed yet I would of course consider it.
A lot of fans look to players like you, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, and a few other young Nigerian internationals yet to represent the country at any level as the face of the Super Eagles in the 2018 World Cup. Do you feel like such expectations create a lot of unnecessary pressure for you, the younger players?
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t see that as unnecessary pressure. It’s a compliment and I enjoy and thrive off of those responsibilities. Similarly, I am enjoying the captaincy at my club at the moment.
When you signed for Groningen, you only made two appearances before being loaned out to Dordrecht and now that you’re a Gent player, you have been loaned out to Haugesund. Do you feel like being sent out on loan is the best solution for your career at the moment?
I want to develop as a player. I’m still young and anyone in the football world will be able to tell you that the most important thing is to play week in week out in order to fulfil your potential. By going on loan I have chosen more playing time and I think it is starting to show its rewards.
What are your personal goals this season?
Personally, I want to be the best defender in the Norwegian Tippeligean. I want to grow in my new role as captain, and also be back playing for my national team at either senior level or at the Olympics coming up.
What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as a player and what have you done to ensure that you keep improving?
I think my strengths are my speed and strength as a defender in the air and in a 1 v 1 situation. I am working every day with my coach Mark Dempsey on those qualities to make them even stronger. I am also working on my tactical understanding and distribution with my left foot, for example.
On a lighter note, what has been the funniest/weirdest experience you’ve had as a player whether on the pitch, in the locker-room, or outside a stadium?
I have experienced some funny things, but on my birthday last September when I was in camp with the super eagles, I got thrown in the pool by most of the players right after I received my birthday cake. That was pretty funny.
Recently, your Super Eagle teammate, Ahmed Musa, said that it was a mistake for Oliseh to name him captain while senior players like Mikel were on the team. You were named Haugesund captain about two months ago but you’re only on the team on loan and while it’s a fairly young team, there are players who have been on the team longer and arguably have more experience. What’s it like coping with that kind of responsibility? Have you faced any challenges as team captain and how have the rest of your teammates reacted to your role?
It is something I really wanted and worked towards. Like I said before, it is a responsibility which I think is making me grow even more quickly as a player. No real challenges yet, I think the group have accepted me well as I am naturally someone who takes the lead and talks a lot on and off the pitch, regardless of whether I have the captains band.
In your away loss to Strømsgodset,your teammate,Haris Hajradinovic, also on loan from Gent, pushed your goalie, Kristian Bratveit, in the face. As captain, how did you handle that at half/full time and what measures do you take to prevent such behavior?
I tried to calm things down and speak to the referee to smooth the situation out. As you can imagine words were exchanged in the changing room but we resolved it behind closed doors and we move on from it now to our next game coming up this Friday.
Did you feel like your team could still win the game after going a man down or was it game over from that point?
I still believed in it and that was my message to my teammates that we had to put in even more, we never give up on the pitch and that mentality has proven well for us.
A word for your fans and supporters?
Just a big thank you, I receive a lot of nice messages on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. That is something I really appreciate and hope to be part of a lot of moments in the future that makes my fans and supporters happy.
Thank you for the interview